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FR: French Officials Are Howling At The Moon To Track Wolf Packs

Alex Ledsom
, Senior Contributor,  Dining & Drinking

This summer, in the foothills of the French Alps, groups of French officials have been imitating wolves and howling at the moon. With trained volunteers, they make wolf noises, which ring out through the oaks and the pines. The response that they get, allows them to track wolf packs in the area.

wolves in France
Wolves are protected in France and culling must be done by officialsSYGMA VIA GETTY IMAGES

The team howls into a cone and waits for a response

Wolves have a number of ways to retain the cohesiveness of their groups and one of these is by howling; one wolf howls into the night and another responds. If a wolf is lost, it can find its way back to the group. It might also signify that a hunt has been successful and encourage others to come join the feast. It’s also a way for one pack to speak to another, particularly over long distances.

Le Monde reported on a technique being used by the National Office of Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) to reproduce similar sounding noises to track the whereabouts of the 532 wolves known to be living in France. It’s important information as the species is protected and dedicated efforts by conservationists have helped the numbers to grow–wolf numbers are up by 20% on 2018.Today In: Lifestyle

Before using cones, the team apparently tried other options–using MP3 players or car speakers to play recordings, but the cones work best and even better, they are a low-cost option. Wolves respond about 30% of the time. The technique–called hurlementprovoqué– is simple in that each volunteer imitates a wolf’s howl in short sequences. The process is repeated at regular intervals (from three to twenty minutes) with a lot of listening in between. When a wolf responds, the team write out a form detailing the length and time of howling and the exact location. The teams criss-cross the area, 800m metres above sea level, before moving on.

A flock of sheep rounded up at dusk for fear of wolf attacks in the French Alps AFP/GETTY IMAGES


August is time to take stock of new wolf packs

The team do these surveys throughout the year but the August survey is best to understand if any new packs have been formed. If any pups have been born (usually in litters of between four to six), they would be about six weeks old and have just been weaned; it’s when they begin to explore the world around them and start hunting. The program is led by Nicolas Jean, National Coordinator, in all areas of France where the wolf has had a permanent presence for at least two years–the team travels extensively to take these surveys. There are 70 identified packs across France, which the team maps in the Alps to the east, the Pyrenees in the south and Brittany in the north.